Just as well that Dhoni will be skipping the Asia Cup as it will give him the opportunity to take a step back and ruminate over the disastrous tour of New Zealand and also his continuing inability to win a series abroad - four tours and four defeats and just five wins in 23 Test matches. Surely, the hot seat of Indian captaincy must be heating up even more.
Dhoni’s haggard and dishevelled appearance marked by an unshaven face already sprouting grey hair accurately reflected his state of mind. Clearly, he is feeling the burden of not just leading a side that performs inconsistently, but also continuous cricket with one tournament or series flowing into another without so much as a pause. Then there have been the IPL controversies with his name being linked in the context of conflict of interest.
If anything, the recent tours of South Africa and New Zealand only underlined the well-known fact that Indian cricketers are not good travelers. During Ganguly’s reign, it was thought that the Indian team had turned the corner in the wake of a string of victories, but that was just a temporary phase of upswing before the Indian team went into a nosedive under Dhoni.
The sequence of wins at home merely projected a misleading image of a team and its players as the moment they stepped out of the comfort zone of sub-continental environment, everything collapsed like a pack of cards. So much so that Dhoni finds his neck on the chopping block as far as captaincy is concerned, though I doubt the selectors will take a drastic step, at least not yet.
Thus, with so much going on, Dhoni wouldn’t mind a niggle or two that will keep him away from the game for a fortnight or so while giving him the time and space to do a bit of thinking, provided of course he is not shooting commercials! For a cricketer with an aggressive streak, his defensive posture in New Zealand was a sign of a man with a cluttered mind that hopefully will free up during the well-earned break now as the Indian team travels to Bangladesh under Kohli.
In fact, Kohli alone looked the part in New Zealand as he performed consistently with the bat much unlike Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara and Rohit Sharma. Also, Rahane showed signs of a player maturing into a quality international cricketer and perhaps, if he is persisted with, he can cement his spot at No.5, behind Pujara and Kohli.
That would leave the two crucial slots at the top of the batting order. Both Vijay and Dhawan wasted opportunities, and perhaps, it is time to cast the net again to find a fresh set of openers. After all, we have tour of England coming up this summer and the conditions will not be much different from those in New Zealand.
As for the bowling, I am afraid, Zaheer needs to give his career a serious thought as suggested by Dravid. No doubt, he toiled manfully in New Zealand, sending down some 50 overs and picking up a few wickets, but it was obvious that he was running on reserve tank. It is pointless to keep harping on his “presence” in the team and influence on the young bowlers. The age is not on his side and the sooner he calls it quits from at least Test cricket, the better it would be.
After all, nobody likes to be sacked and Zaheer can save himself that embarrassment. He has served Indian cricket with distinction, but all good things eventually come to an end, and I feel that Zaheer’s time is up. Also, his presence is also blocking a youngster like Bhuvneshwar Kumar who sat out both the Tests in New Zealand.
It was a pity that even Ashwin couldn’t get to play the Tests. I thought he was a better choice than Jadeja as an all-rounder. Ashwin might not have been successful in the ODIs, but he would have appreciated the longer spells in Test matches that would have allowed him to settle down and work out strategies against the batsmen.
Talking about batsmen, McCullum was a revelation if only for the double and triple centuries he scored in the two Test matches. Eventually, he proved to be the difference between the two teams with his inspired batting. Dhoni was spot on when he said after the second Test that McCullum deserved the kudos for the manner in which he batted rather than criticizing the Indian bowlers who were hit for 680 runs.
Watching the Kiwis, I feel that the current bunch is authoring a new chapter in New Zealand cricket that saw its first batsman in McCullum scoring a triple hundred. The problem with Kiwi cricket has been one of indiscipline. The players seem to give in rather too easily to the temptations and press the self-destruct button in the process. However, if the Kiwis stay focused, then they could well emerge a far bigger cricketing force.
All in all, it was a forgettable tour and one that again exposed the limitations of Indian batsmen who are only good on sub-continental wickets, but mere bunnys abroad. And so the sorry tale continues and I doubt it will have a happy ending. Not in the near future anyway!